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The Extra Pass: Recapping the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference


The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was held in Boston this past weekend, the eighth in an annual series intended to bring the sports world and the advanced statistics community together to discuss common areas where the two fields can share and benefit from an increasingly abundant amount of raw data that measures athletes performing at the highest levels.

There were plenty of panel discussions and research presentations attended, so here’s a summary of the highlights of what went down over the two-day experience.

– Tanking and the draft that seems to incentivize it were ongoing topics at the conference, and on the basketball analytics panel Friday, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo admitted to trying to tank for a high draft pick a couple of seasons ago. However, he wasn’t exactly able to achieve his desired result.

– One of the more interesting and honest discussions came on a negotiation panel that featured a professor from the Harvard Business School moderating a talk between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Warriors GM Bob Myers. The two NBA men were very open in discussing their personal shortcomings where negotiations are concerned, and Morey and Myers shared some unique inside information on how the Dwight Howard free agent frenzy last summer affected each of their respective franchises. (Hint: It caused Morey to actually call up Mark Cuban to try to trade for Dirk Nowitzki.)

– The most interesting research paper presented from a basketball perspective may have been the one to address the Hot Hand theory, which has been widely debunked in the past. The new research took into account information from SportVU cameras that wasn’t available to previous researchers, and the conclusion was that the Hot Hand does in fact exist, and that players believe in it and act accordingly. Perhaps not surprisingly, J.R. Smith was one of the textbook examples.

– Not everyone at the conference was 100 percent on board with advanced statistical data and its immediate implementation, at least not without first evaluating who exactly is putting it all together. Stan Van Gundy was amazing on the basketball analytics panel, and explained frankly and in detail why the data may not mean much to those actually running the team from a basketball standpoint if it’s only being assembled by statisticians, as opposed to those who are highly experienced in the game itself.

– NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appeared at the conference on Saturday, and had an extended conversation with Malcolm Gladwell about a variety of topics. The draft lottery system and the perceived issue of tanking were among the more interesting, and while Silver continues to define tanking differently than the rest of us, he at least appears to be very open to looking at ways of changing things so that losing, in any capacity, won’t be at all incentivized in the future.

Jahlil Okafor fights man in Boston (video)

Jahlil Okafor
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The 76ers lost a heartbreaker to the Celtics last night, dropping Philadelphia to 0-16.

Jahlil Okafor was apparently in a foul mood after the game.


We’re told everyone got up and fled the scene and no arrests were made.

We’re told the altercation began because one of the men in the other group yelled at Jahlil, “The 76ers suck.”

We spoke with a rep for Jahlil who tells us … Okafor says he was being heckled from the moment he left the club and felt threatened because people swarmed him on the street.

This video obviously doesn’t show everything, but it certainly makes Okafor look like the aggressor.

Okafor will probably face punishment from some combination of the legal system, NBA and 76ers.

Kristaps Porzingis envelops Victor Oladipo’s dunk attempt (video)

Nikola Vucevic, Kristaps Porzingis
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Scott Skiles moved Victor Oladipo to the bench, because the Magic coach wanted to give Oladipo a chance to be more aggressive.

It worked.

Oladipo scored a season-high 24 points in the Magic’s 100-91 win over the Knicks.

But Oladipo’s aggressiveness also produced this fantastic Kristaps Porzingis block:

John Wall: Wizards shouldn’t have rested me and Bradley Beal together

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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The Wizards scored just six fourth-quarter points in their loss to the Hornets last night.

John Wall and Bradley Beal rested for the first 4:42 of that final period.

Wall, via Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

“I feel like we can’t have me and Brad sitting,” said Wall, who finished with 14 points on 6 for 18 shooting, with six assists, five rebounds and four turnovers. “That’s just my opinion. Coach makes the decision he feels is best for us. I just feel like one of us has to be in in that situation because when you’re on the road, this is the time when you can step on them.

“I just feel like one of us has to be in. I don’t know. It’s just my opinion because our second unit was just so stagnant. And I’m not saying they lost the game. [Shoot], we all lost the game. We didn’t make shots. We were 1 for 20, right? I think we were just so stagnant. We really didn’t have anybody penetrating and creating.”

First of all, this is how you disagree with a coach. Wall made clear that he respects Randy Wittman’s authority to set the rotation. Two adults should be allowed to acknowledge their differing opinions without it being labeled a feud.

But is Wall right?

Per nbawowy!, here are Washington’s offensive/defensive/net ratings with:

  • Wall and Beal: 103.0/105.0/-2.0 in 224 minutes
  • Wall without Beal: 110.0/111.2/-1.2 in 134 minutes
  • Beal without Wall: 80.2/116.8/-36.6 in 48 minutes
  • Neither Wall nor Beal: 105.2/101.6/+3.6 in 123 minutes

The Wizards have been much better with neither player on the court this season. They’ve also been a disaster when Beal plays without Wall.

But this is a relatively small sample. Let’s look back to last season.

  • Wall and Beal: 108.5/101.5/+7.0 in 1,715 minutes
  • Wall without Beal: 103.0/102.0/+1.0 in 1,123 minutes
  • Beal without Wall: 103.2/110.9/-7.7 in 384 minutes
  • Neither Wall nor Beal: 97.0/107.0/-10.0 in 768 minutes

Washington was – by far – at its best when Wall and Beal shared the court. They just complement each other so well. The Wizards were also fine with just Wall, bad with just Beal and even worse with neither.

If I were the Wizards, I’d generally chance resting Wall and Beal simultaneously so they can play more together. If I’m using just one, it’s Wall. Beal is not a creator I trust to run the offense, and Wall’s defense is important.

But there’s a limit on how much Wall (and Beal) can play. Wall got 36 minutes against Charlotte, and Beal played 38.

To the point, Wall and Beal played the final 7:18 – and the Wizards didn’t make a single basket in that span. They scored just two points on free throws. So, it’s hard to argue Wall and Beal were the answer.

Wittman blamed the players more than his substitutions.

Wittman, via J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“We don’t have guys that are making plays right now. Again, good looks but until we quit feeling sorry,” said Wittman, who could’ve gone this road after a 123-106 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday but didn’t. “When things go bad like that I had to twice in timeouts and tell them to lift their heads up. There’s plenty of time left. We’re up nine during this whole thing.  We start feeling sorry, start pouting putting our heads down and it becomes a snowball. We got to grow up in that aspect of it. If the shot doesn’t go in, it doesn’t go in.

“Makes, misses, that’s the game. You never give in. We haven’t gotten over that. That’s been that way for the last couple of years. Guys don’t play well, put their heads down and we pout, feel sorry for ourselves.”

When Wittman previously called out a player publicly, Marcin Gortat didn’t take it well. I’m not sure this will go any better.


When confronted with Wittman’s words, Bradley Beal only would shake his head before giving this retort: “I’m not going to comment on that.”

It’s uncharacteristic of the fourth-year shooting guard, who’ll usually give some sort of answer and shrug it off. By saying nothing, he’s staying plenty.

The Wizards, who entered the season a contender for the Eastern Conference finals, are 6-6. They’ve lost two straight, by 17 and 14 – and the end of their last defeat was historically dreadful.

Is this a team in turmoil?

Michael provides plenty of context to that question.

Chris Paul drops Rudy Gobert with stepback (and Gobert says why)


When Chris Paul recognized he got matched up with Rudy Gobert in transition, he slowed it down and set it up for an isolation — then used his step back to drop him to the ground and drain the open midrange. It’s one of the better highlight plays from the Clippers this season (and they have more than a few in Lob City).

Did CP3 push off on Gobert? Of course. Welcome to the NBA, every player who drives pushes off (including Gordon Hayward). It looked like to be Gobert tried to sell the contact and didn’t get the call he wanted.

However, after the game Gobert tweeted it was something else entirely.

Either way the Jazz got the win Wednesday night, 102-91, snapping a 13-game losing streak to the Clippers. The Jazz are .500 on the season with the win (7-7), while the Clippers drop back to below .500 (7-8) with some issues to sort out still.